The horse stations (morin urtuus) are the backbone of the Mongol Derby. They represent the only compulsory points on the course, and a rider cannot achieve a proper placing in the event unless he rides into and out of every urtuu and is signed in and out by the vets or urtuu managers. They will be stationed about every 35-40kms as ridden - not as the crow flies, as you are not riding crows. Most urtuus will simply be the summer dwellings of the herding families hosting the urtuu, with an extra ger erected to house any 'overspill' of riders. Some will have moved to be at the location we assign to them, for example if there is a 60km stretch with no families. All riders are welcome to stay and eat with the herders, many of whom will have been preparing traditional Mongolian fare in fevered expectation of your arrival. We don't guarantee a space in the ger for every rider though. Things may be pretty cosy, and a few stragglers may prefer to bivvy outside.
Urtuu changovers - a brief guide
Approaching the urtuu
Once you have spotted the urtuu, slow your pace- the herders all have aggressive dogs who will not be very welcoming if you thunder up to the ger. In addition, other riders may have come in before you and there is generally a throng, so cannoning into the vets and your fellow competitors might be seen as unchivalrous.
The urtuu manager or vet will sign you in to the urtuu and record your time.
You should unsaddle your horse and present it to one of the vets as soon as one is free. We have not rule-governed this activity, but be sensible - on day 1 where 25 riders may be in the ger at the same time, the vets are working under pressure to check and re-check everyone, so keep your pants on and wait your turn. Emergency help will ALWAYS take priority over routine race duties, so if a horse has been injured, the vets may be tied up.
The vet check
The most significant activity at the urtuus is the vetting of horses who have just been ridden in. Riders cannot continue on in the race until their horse has passed the vet check, and if the vets aren't satisfied, then the rider may incur a penalty. Here we explain the parameters the vets are looking for in taking care of your noble steeds.
1. Heart rate
Heart rates are taken over a full minute. There are 2 categories to commit to memory.
1. If the horse's heart rate is under 56 beats per minute when it is first presented to the vets, then the rider is free to hand that horse back to one of the herders, take the bridle and pick their next horse.
2. If it is over 56, then the following conditions apply:
After 30 minutes, the heart rate will be taken again (or sooner if the vets are not tied up with other duties). If the heart rate is below 56, they can continue as before.
If, after 30 minutes, the heart rate is still higher than 56, the rider will get a penalty.
The total time spent in an urtuu without incurring a heart rate penalty could be as much as 30 minutes. This time acts as its own penalty- the faster your horse recovers, the quicker you can ride on.
If you do incur a heart rate penalty, this will be rolled up and served at the next Penalty Urtuu
Why 56 in 30?
56bpm is an internationally recognised parameter of recovery in the sport of endurance riding. Before the FEI got its mitts on the rules, there were separate gates for shorter rides, and for a distance of 40kms, the 'pass' pulse was 56bpm, not the current 64bpm.
In prior years horses on the Derby have been given 30, even 45 minutes to recover to a heart rate of 64. However as the Derby has developed and riders have been on fitter and better prepared horses, we decided to narrow this gate for 2015 and beyond. Sympathetically ridden, the horses can trot straight up to the vet with a pulse of 56bpm. Veterinary penalties were at their lowest incidence ever in 2015, this change is set to stay.
Riders are selected for this adventure on the basis of their riding experience and abilities. If a rider comes in on a horse who is visibly lame, they'll have some explaining to do. If at any point you feel your horse is irregular, get off, walk or jog alongside and re-evaluate. Check for injuries. If it's lame you'll have to walk it forward or back - whichever is closest. Do NOT keep riding a lame horse.
If the horse is lame and there is a visible injury which you have missed, or something wedged in a hoof, you will be held responsible.
3. Other checks
The other veterinary inspections of each horse will include: gut sounds, gait evaluation, hydration, lacerations, wounds and general condition. If a horse fails any aspect of its veterinary check it will be up to the discretion of the vet as to whether the rider gets penalised or not.
The vets can award a penalty on veterinary grounds for anything they feel has compromised the welfare and recovery of the horse. Whilst we have tried to make these rules formulaic and clear, the vets retain discretion to act accordingly.
Selecting your mount
Riders will draw for horses for the first leg of the Mongol Derby. If there are some very small or very large horses, we will weight the draw so that bigger riders end up on bigger horses.
After the first draw, riders will select their own mounts from the line-up. They are free to take advice from the herders, who will have seen you ride in. If while the horse is being saddled they decide it is too wild for you, it might be an idea to listen to their advice. The more the Mongolians like your riding style, and the better your horses come in from their 40kms, the more likely they are to pick out the superstars in the line-up for you. But it's a very inexact science, and not something to be unduly concerned about. All the horses are well capable of 40kms at a decent speed.
Bear in mind that the herders will assume that ladies will want more 'benign' horses - if you are a pistol but female, you may want to take their advice on the bay that is 'very aggressive' with a pinch of salt.
In the afternoons we will be turning the horses out again to graze and find water, and herding them back in as riders come in to the station. So, if you approach a ger after 12pm, there may only be a few horses on the line rather than the full complement. Those that are tied up should be freshly grazed and hydrated. This system will rely heavily on communications getting through seamlessly between urtuu teams warning each other when riders will be approaching the urtuu, and getting the herders to retrieve the horses in small batches and recycle the horses on the line.
It's conceivable that you could arrive at a horse station and there are no horses waiting due to a comms mix-up. You'll get the advantage of seeing your mounts being herded and get a good look at how a) fast and b) naughty they are. And they'll need less of a warm-up having been out for a leg-stretch. Chin up!
You are welcome to accept help saddling your steed and indeed getting back in the saddle, but you must take responsibility for the correct fit of your tack and your equipment on the horse. The herders will not have seen your saddles before and if their horse gets an injury from your girth rubbing, it's your responsibility. Check your tack before you get on and ride off.
Once you're ready to ride, you'll need to be signed out by the urtuu manager or interpreter.
Rider vet cards
Vets will record heart rates, times in and out of the urtuus, and all other parameters on the riders' record cards, which will be carried by the riders at all times while mounted. These are a running record of the Derby and are very important documents.
At the end of the race they are returned to the event director for our records and for showing to Guinness as we attempt to beat our own World Record for Longest Horse Race. In addition, any penalties to be served at Penalty Urtuus will be noted, so that the urtuu manager at that urtuu can hold the rider for the agreed period.